It must be remembered that it was not a question of whether Elizabeth desired marriage. She may have done so as involving a brilliant stroke of policy. In this sense she may have wished to marry one of the two French princes who were among her suitors. But even here she hesitated, and her Parliament disapproved; for by this time England had become largely Protestant. Again, had she married a French prince and had children, England might have become an appanage of France.
There is no particular evidence that she had any feeling at all for her Flemish, Austrian, or Russian suitors, while the Swede’s pretensions were the laughing-stock of the English court. So we may set aside this question of marriage as having nothing to do with her emotional life. She did desire a son, as was shown by her passionate outcry when she compared herself with Mary of Scotland.
“The Queen of Scots has a bonny son, while I am but a barren stock!”
She was too wise to wed a subject; though. had she married at all, her choice would doubtless have been an Englishman. In this respect, as in so many others, she was like her father, who chose his numerous wives, with the exception of the first, from among the English ladies of the court; just as the showy Edward IV. was happy in marrying “Dame Elizabeth Woodville.” But what a king may do is by no means so easy for a queen; and a husband is almost certain to assume an authority which makes him unpopular with the subjects of his wife.
Hence, as said above, we must consider not so much whom she would have liked to marry, but rather to whom her love went out spontaneously, and not as a part of that amatory play which amused her from the time when she frisked with Seymour down to the very last days, when she could no longer move about, but when she still dabbled her cheeks with rouge and powder and set her skeleton face amid a forest of ruffs.
There were many whom she cared for after a fashion. She would not let Sir Walter Raleigh visit her American colonies, because she could not bear to have him so long away from her. She had great moments of passion for the Earl of Essex, though in the end she signed his death-warrant because he was as dominant in spirit as the queen herself.
Readers of Sir Walter Scott’s wonderfully picturesque novel, Kenilworth, will note how he throws the strongest light upon Elizabeth’s affection for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Scott’s historical instinct is united here with a vein of psychology which goes deeper than is usual with him. We see Elizabeth trying hard to share her favor equally between two nobles; but the Earl of Essex fails to please her because he lacked those exquisite manners which made Leicester so great a favorite with the fastidious queen.